France 2016 - Thursday, October 06 - Nice by way of Route Napoleon

Day 7: The French Riviera and Nice

Glorious mountain scenery will be yours to enjoy as you travel along a spectacular route, used by the Emperor Napoleon when he returned from his first exile to try to take the throne of France once more.  Continue to the French Riviera and the elegant resort of Nice.  Hotel: Radisson Blu Hotel, Nice.  Buffet Breakfast.


Thrusday was all about making our way from Grenobles to Nice, which we learned along the way was originally Nike, as in the Greek goddess of victory.  As had been promised the night before, Mark and our coach driver who’s name I’ve already forgotten but he was Italian, took several of the seats out of our coach and stored them at the hotel so that we could get the legroom we are promised on Insight coaches.  This was nice, but everything else about the bus was still broke dick.  At this point we were beginning to fear that this was just going to be our coach for the rest of the trip.

Along the way we had a brief stop at café in the middle of nowhere along one of the vast alpine gorges we drove through. 

It was very high up in the mountains, and what was so interesting was that although it went from super high mountains to super high mountains, there were broad slopes up from the bottom with vegetation and trees and grazing land up the sides, as opposed to the rockies where the gorges are much narrower and there isn’t much opportunity for use of the steeper slopes.  Joyce and I went off on an umarked road which was obviously used, but was just gravel tracks for wheels with grass growing in between. 

Off in the distance we heard cow bells which sounded to me like a cow bell wind chime, but which Joyce swore was just cows moving about normally as cows do.  At one point we did see some cows off in the distance through some trees though.  We followed the path until it forked,

and was a lot less maintained but still clearly in use, then we came to another fork,

and at this point we gave up and had to turn back around to get back on the bus.  On the way back the sight of the opposing mountain was so stark

(picturesque as fuck), it was so far away and so large, and the brain just does not like it.  It wants to believe that something that large can’t possibly be that large while being so far away.  It keeps insisting that it is either closer than is seems or just not as large as it must be.

It was a big driving day, and the next stop where we had lunch was a small town called Dignes les Baines,

which is apparently only half the size of Westbank small.  We were let out at a small mall because there was nothing else open in town and we had to stop somewhere.  There was a cafeteria kind of place as well as a sit down restaurant, but Joyce and I don’t usually need lunch after stuffing ourselves at the buffet breakfast, so we headed to the large store at the mall called Carre-Four.  This was by far the largest Carre-Four I was in in France, but they range from quite small little corner stores, to massive ones like this which rivalled a substantial Wal-Mart in size.  It was a little like Wal-Mart, but if Wal-Mart was classy and had quality products. 

On the way there through the mall though, we looked into a tabacco/lotto/magazine place for my stickers and bottle openers but didn’t find any.  What I did see were porno magazines up on the top shelf of the magazine rack, complete with naked breasts right there for everyone to see.  Why?  Because we are French.  It reminded me that you hardly ever see those sorts of magazines for sale in North America anymore.  It made me want to get one out of sheer curiosity for what one that is still being made would be like, let alone a French one, as well as one which was smaller than full magazine size and didn’t look like that was all that it was.  I wasn’t curious enough to actually get it while Joyce was with me though. 

The supermarket was quite remarkable.  The small baskets were a meter tall and rolled, and the full carts were plastic on four swiveling wheels so you could move it sideways as easily as forwards.  Genius.  It was interesting seeing different brands for things, as well as the different region games and movies I’d usually only see on ebay, and have to judiciously avoid.  They also had all kinds of electronics, cleaning supplies, clothing, and books.  I got my niece Alexia, who is in French immersion and likes anime/manga, a French language manga.  It was pretty difficult to figure out what they were about, and I don’t even know what she’s into really, so I took a bit of a stab in the dark.  I thought she’d at least appreciate the novelty.  There were whole aisles of pastries,

an odd seeming taco section,

an insane amount of cheese,

stuff like canned rabbit pâté, it’s remarkable how common rabbit is to eat here, you see it for sale everywhere you see any other kind meat. 

They had mickey’s of booze in cardboard backed plastic packages like we get batteries and other electronics which I found interesting,

whole pallets of canned duck pâté,

seafood laid out on crushed ice with full fish and crustaceans,

a seemingly endless deli meat and cheese by the slice section, interestingly also a halal section, as well as a full cake of my beloved mille feuille pastry. 

For lunch I wound up getting a quarter of a flan in two pieces (YOU’RE a tart…), two packages of smoked ham wrapped boursin cheese, one tomato and onion flavor

and the other onion and herb

(which were soooooo good, we ate them as soon as we got on the bus and spent the rest of the trip looking for them.  I found them in Avignon again and then left them in the hotel fridge when we left!  Très désolé!!).  I was also happy to find some more Ricola at the front cashiers since my throat was still bothering me, as well as some chips and some more Coke Light while I still have the chance.  Mark had warned us that we wouldn’t necessarily find a convenient convenience store nearby our hotel in Nice.

From there we drove on.  We saw an automated flag person which was a street light on a timer to allow two ways of traffic to use one lane without a human flag person,

a dam lake

and found ourselves stopped briefly for an aborted comfort stop in front of yet another walled city across the gorge on the top of a hill,

but the washrooms were closed so we had to drive on for a bit.  Where we did stop was relatively unremarkable aside from the standard degree of these ancient towns always being quite remarkable and so beautifully quaint. 

Stand anywhere in these places and look in any direction and your breath is taken away by the postcard picture in front of you.  While Joyce went to the bathroom I explored a bit and took some pictures.  

I saw a cat that reminded me of Coal and had my first real pang of homesickness. 

It happens sometimes but it passes.  The more I miss home, the happier I’ll be to get back, and the more I’ll appreciate home when I do.  That’s how it works.  Going away makes you appreciate home, home makes you appreciate being away.

From there it was straight on to Nice. 

I kept waiting for someone to say “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the French Riviera,’ the way Hugh said ‘Welcome to the Adriatic on our Balkans trip, but no one did.  It was of course beautiful.  We got to our hotel after driving past the vast parking lot of private jets which made me a little angry.  Seeing such opulent wealth on display gets my revolutionary ire up.  It’s one thing to be first class rich, it’s another thing entirely to be private jet rich.  Anyway, more on that in Monaco.  The hotel room was quite nice (no pun intended), but it didn’t get cool enough at night and the view out our windows was of the building behind us rather than the bay in front of us.  There was a pool up top on the roof which we thought about going for a swim in, but we never did. 

When I looked in it I saw floaties which turned me off.  I’m leary of public pools at the best of times anyways.

That night we had a walking tour with a local guide of the old town of Nice, and then were left on our own to have dinner. 

We’re expected to tip the local guides a euro a piece and I learned on previous trips Joyce really hates this so I take care of it now.  I like Nice.  The old town was exactly the same as all the old towns we’ve seen, but the water front area had a wonderful feel to it. 

There were palm trees, lots of all kinds of people doing all kinds of different things on the promenade… it had a tropical and cosmopolitan vibe to it, what’s not to like!? 

If anything it reminded me of Venice Beach except not American, meaning cultured and dignified as opposed to thuggy, super fake, and weird for the sake of being weird… but both tropical adjacent waterfront.  It was the Mediterranean, and there’s really nothing like it in the world. 

Having been to Italy, I could feel the Italian influence here, the same way the Swiss influence was so clear when we were in Chamonix, and the German influence was evident when we were further north.  The modern borders in places like these are modern constructions; the culture on the ground is rooted much deeper and older, it bleeds from one area to the next and the next and the next as opposed to being entirely distinct along national borders.

Joyce and I had dinner at a place recommended by our tour guide, a place where English was spoken, but I rather successfully spoke English to our waiter who spoke English to me in turn, and Joyce felt it was a very mutually respectful exchange in that we both spoke the language best understandable to the other person.  He told us he was ‘very manic’ as he rearranged the things on our table from how we had arranged them, because the salad had to go where the salad had to go, so whatever was in the salad’s spot had to be somewhere else.  I ordered the triple mozzarella appetizer.  That was all the information about it I had to go on, but I had to order it. 

It turned out to be a dry shaved mozzarella, a smoked egg shaped mozzarella cut in half, and the elusive Bourassa cheese Joyce and I first had at Mama Rosa’s in Kelowna, a very soft cheese inside a firmer outer cheese shell.  Soooo good.  The cheeses all came on a salad which all turned out very good. 

Joyce and I both had 50cl Kronnenbourg beer.  I finally figured out how half a liter could be 50 centiliters.  I was confused because there’s 100 cm in a meter, but it eluded me for a bit that 1000 ml go into a liter and not 100.  It just required thinking about it, much like the construction of bonjour.  I thought cl was French for ml somehow but no, I was just confused. 

As I said there is a strong Italian influence here.  I had a wonderful mushroom and ham pizza,

and mused about how in North America you’re some kind of animal if you use a knife and fork on a slice of pizza, while here you get the whole pizza uncut and are set to work with a fork and knife.  Joyce had a seafood pasta in some kind of white wine sauce.  Her prawns were complete with tentacles and eyes looking up at us.  Gross.

Joyce is getting ever more irritated with me taking pictures of her taking pictures, but I just think it’s too funny to stop.  After dinner we assembled at the designated meeting place in front of the opera house right nearby where we had dinner and were brought back to our hotel on the coach.